The Unbreakable Vow 36

by

Ash Darklighter

It all belongs to JK Rowling and I thank her for her inspiration – There are no galleons to be made from me or by me. This little story is my first Harry Potter fic. It is AU and of course comments are welcome. I am also grateful for all the people who have read and reviewed this story. I am quite stunned by all the positive comments. I know I do not update as swiftly as everyone would like but life and work and everything that goes with it just slows me down. Thanks again for your patience.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Outside Elgin Cathedral

Hermione shook as the cold air attacked her exposed nose. "Merlin, it's freezing."

"You don't say," Ron shot back sarcastically as he shivered despite being swaddled in warm clothing, the only thing visible being the tip of his nose. "December and Scotland?" he muttered. "Why would it be warm?"

"Did you remember to take the Christmas presents?" she asked anxiously. "I shrunk the turkey and the ham and the plum pudding. Molly made the cake months ago. She's been feeding it with firewhisky and elf-matured port since it came out of the oven..."

"Hermione, stop worrying," Ron said calmly. "You laid it all out on the kitchen table, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"Then it's in my pocket. If we forgot anything we can just apparate back and get it. Magic, remember? So, no problem. I know how important the cake is to mum. It's quite safe." He patted the side of his new winter cloak as he stared at the slightly eerie visage of the ruined cathedral. "It's very quiet around here."

"Yes. Probably why Harry chose it as a pickup point, plus the town centre is largely pedestrianized."

"What!"

"No cars, Ronald."

"Oh, yeah. I knew that."

She moved to the railings and peered through them at the crumbling edifice. "It's old, very old, and I can feel the ambient magic." She peered closer. "Ghosts are not limited to Hogwarts," she murmured with satisfaction. "The ghostly outline of a cleric could be seen walking calmly away towards the chapter house.

Ron gazed with interest at his surroundings. "It's also away from the town centre. From what you were saying, I believe that Harry's had enough problems with wizards in that part of town."

"It's getting very dark."

"It's December, it's Scotland, it's Christmas Eve and it's nearly four o'clock," said Ron grumpily, almost repeating what he'd said earlier. "I'm not surprised that it's 'getting very dark'. How did you persuade 'the Prat' to let you off early?"

"I asked for a half day. I said that I had shopping and preparations to do. I wasn't telling lies. The Ministry was dead quiet. I don't think anyone was actually working apart from Percy. He couldn't say no after all the extra time I worked. I put in unpaid overtime for him on a number of occasions."

"Who'd want to spend time with him anyway?" sneered Ron.

"He's still your brother, Ron, and one day perhaps he'll regret the way that he's behaved. The thing about Percy is that he truly believes he's doing things for the best."

Ron snorted. "You've said that before, but I have trouble believing it."

"In the Ministry on Christmas Eve, Ron, Percy was putting in his normal day's work. Probably the only wizard doing so. Give him a task to do and he will try to fulfil it to the best of his ability. I may not appreciate the way he has dealt with things but..." She sniffed and flicked her wand at a sign attached to the railing. "Lumos." The words could be read clearly. "This cathedral dates from the thirteenth century."

"So it's fairly new then," said Ron.

"It's medieval," retorted Hermione. "That's not new."

"Ollivanders has been making wands since 382BC."

"True," Hermione admitted, "but this is a muggle building. Known as 'The Lantern of the North'." She squinted at the sign. "Maybe because it kept getting destroyed by fire." The ghostly cleric in the process of lighting an equally translucent lamp turned and frowned at them. "It was actually built without magic. Think of the craftsmanship... Ron?"

Ron had moved away from the gates and was staring at the empty street. The faint sound of traffic could be heard on the main road but the area around the cathedral itself was quiet. The road they were standing on was a dead end so unless you were visiting the cathedral or the adjoining park, there was no reason to be there. "When did Harry say he would be here?"

Hermione moved under the glow of an orange street lamp. "He said around four and it's just that now."

Ron stiffened. "Something's coming."

A car with its indicator flashing turned into the road and the couple moved into the shadows, their hands going automatically for their wands. The vehicle slowed to a gentle stop and the window wound down. A head popped out and yelled, "Hey!"

"Fred?" exclaimed Ron in amazement. "Is that you?"

"Well, I could be George."

"But I'm George," said another voice from the passenger side. "Do we need a security question?"

Hermione turned to her fiancé. "Maybe we should. How do we know it is actually Fred and George? Ron, is there something that only you and the twins would know?"

"That's good enough for me," said the driver. "That sounds too much like Hermione to be a faker. And yes, I am Fred."

"But I thought I was Fred."

Hermione had had enough. In an instant her wand was in her hands and Fred, who was in the driver's seat, somehow found the ten and three-quarter inch vine wood wand pressed firmly against his neck. "I hope you are who we think you are. If not..." She let the words tail off threateningly and then added, her voice dropping to a snarl, "...use your imagination."

"Use that brilliant mind of yours, sister-in-law to be," sang out Fred, completely sanguine at the threat of possible spell damage. "Why would the lovely George and I be in a car at the place designated as a pick-up point by a certain wizard relative-of-ours-by-marriage?"

Hermione scowled.

"I don't want to say the name out loud but the son-of-Prongs..."

George got out of the car and opened the rear door with a flourish. "Too many hyphens, Fred, and we need to get out of the open."

Ron shrugged and dived into the back seat. "I'm convinced and besides, it's bloody freezing."

Hermione stood, her arms crossed, tapping her foot for a moment longer and then, as if she realised how silly she was being, tumbled into the car after her fiancé. Immediately after she was in, even before the door was closed, the car moved swiftly away from the looming black shape that was now the cathedral. She gave a little screech of protest.

"Time to go, Hermione," said George. "You did bring the turkey? If you haven't, you need to get back to The Burrow. No turkey..."

"Of course I did." Hermione sat back in her seat, her hands fiddling with her seat belt. "Is this Harry's car?" she asked.

"Yes," said Fred. "Very nice, isn't it? And he allowed us to borrow it."

Hermione groaned. "Then it flies or turns invisible."

"Nope," said George. "It's a muggle car. It doesn't do anything apart from drive."

Ron looked perplexed. "It doesn't do anything?"

"Nope," said George again. "Well, you switch on the engine, put it into gear and it moves once you release the handbrake. I would say that that was something."

"What?" asked a bemused Ron.

"As my handsome brother already said, it's a muggle car, dimwit," chipped in Fred. "Harry lives like a muggle and that's how you drive a car. You've driven Dad's old Ford Anglia."

"Wasn't quite the same," Ron mumbled. "Dad had completely magicked it. I mean... it flew and turned invisible."

"Muggle cars don't fly, little brother," said George.

"I knew that," snapped Ron. "But this is Harry's car and I would have thought..."

"Actually," mused Fred. "There is one thing it does..." He leant forward and flicked something on the dashboard. "Gotta love muggles and flicky, pressy things."

"A switch, my dear brother," intoned George loftily.

"What did you do?" Ron squirmed a little. He could have sworn that the seat he was sitting on was getting warmer. "Guys..."

"It's a heated car seat, Ronald." Hermione shot him a look of disapproval and then stared out of the window at the darkening scenery, wriggling a little to get warm. She noted the road signs as they passed. They were heading south. "Harry doesn't live in Elgin?"

George shook his head. "Too many people."

"But it's not a big place."

"Not if you compare it to London but it's big enough," said Fred. "Harry and Ginny's house is completely isolated, like any wizard's place. It's warded and under a Fidelius."

Hermione gave an approving nod. "He's not taking any chances then."

George glanced at Fred who gave a minute shake of his head. "No, he has taken paranoia to an almost Moody-esque level. Harry has his family to protect."

Twenty minutes later, the car turned off the main road and headed along a twisting tree-lined lane. The temperature had been steadily dropping since they'd left Elgin and it hadn't been warm to begin with. Flakes of snow were cascading downwards in earnest and the headlights of the car drew them into a strange white world.

"We're nearly there," Fred said with a sigh of relief as the car slowed to a standstill. He dug into the glove compartment and pulled out a small piece of card which he handed to Ron. "Read this and commit it to memory. Harry hopes that you've both been working on your Occlumency shields."

Ron knew what it was - Harry's address. He held it out to Hermione. She glanced over the words and nodded and magically, a set of impressive steel gates appeared before them from what had seemed to be impenetrable woods. Slowly they opened and the car eased its way up the bumpy drive.

Hermione had to admit she was impressed. Harry really was being careful. No wonder he'd been impossible to find. She had no idea what type of house Harry and Ginny would have chosen for their home. His parents and Sirius had been wealthy and her friend had a good amount of galleons in his vaults but Harry had never bothered about money. As the car rounded the final bend, she gave a gasp and immediately fell in love with the house. This wasn't a temporary hiding place; this was long-term and permanent. This was a home.

Christmas had come to Shielhill. The falling snow was thickening and a large tree festooned with sparkling lights could be glimpsed through one of the windows. It looked like an image from a Christmas card.

Fred took the car towards the open door of a double garage. "Harry said to put it in here. The weather forecast has been hinting at this for days but has never quite delivered. He doesn't want to be shovelling snow off the car if he needs it for anything. They're higher up here and get more of the bad weather."

"But he's a wizard - he doesn't need a car," said Ron.

"What part of living like a muggle don't you understand?" asked Fred. "He's not in the way of using his magic... at all!"

George sighed, his customary levity absent. "He's had none to use...or so he said. I believe that, according to Harry, that state of affairs was thankfully temporary and his magic has recovered gradually over the past five years. Therefore, he needs a car."

"He said as much to me in the bank," Hermione admitted. How much of a recovery had Harry's magic really made? What she had seen him do had looked as powerful as ever but what she had researched on the curse made her doubtful that anyone – even Harry – could recover so quickly. "I still can't believe that his magic has returned to its previous level."

George nodded. "We think that it has. He's just used to doing things without magic and it helped being muggle-raised. What the ministry department for wand control can pick up is remarkable, especially if he or Ginny is outside the Fidelius. Remember, Ginny was...is still wanted for absconding instead of dutifully marrying the Malfoy ferret bastard. I just don't see what they could do to her now that the union has been officially accepted by magic."

"And also by William, head of House Weasley."

George beamed. "Ah, yes, my esteemed eldest brother."

"For the first few years Harry couldn't use magic and then he was afraid to," added Fred. "Neither he nor Ginny wanted to risk being discovered for carelessly using a spell."

"But..."

Fred urged them from the car. "It's perishing out here, kids. Let's get you inside."

Ron and Hermione followed the twins out of the garage and made for the front door but before they got there it had opened and Harry's familiar figure was framed within it. Within seconds, both Ron and Hermione had their arms around him. They were laughing and crying, spluttering apologies and half-understood explanations.

"G-G-Ginny?" Ron managed to stammer.

"Waiting for you inside, mate, with the rest of the family," murmured Harry, thumping him on the back. "It's been a while."

"Yeah," said Ron. "It has."

"You hungry?" asked Harry. "Molly was baking earlier on today."

"Famished," said Ron. "Lead on."

Hermione stared in disbelief, her mouth open. "That's it?" Her hands curled into fists. Five years of nothing then instant acceptance and that was it? "That's it?" she said again her voice rising.

Harry and Ron stopped and looked at her. "Well, yes," they said in unison. "What do you want us to do?"

Slowly shaking her head, Hermione looked to the snowy sky with wide eyes and not for the first time ground out between clenched teeth, "I don't believe it. Men!"

"Hermione...Ron..." Molly Weasley bustled forward and divested them of their cloaks and hats. "Close the door, boys. The weather's been threatening this for the past week and we want to keep the heat inside the house. I've just taken the apple and cinnamon scones out of the oven. Go!" She ushered them ahead of her. "The whole family is here and..."

Ron swallowed and croaked, "Where's Ginny?"

Suddenly, a red-haired blur ran past her mother and threw herself at the newcomers. "Ron! Hermione!" she cried. "I've missed you both so much."

Harry chuckled and then with a blissful smile Ginny withdrew from Ron and Hermione and wrapped herself in her husband's arms.

"It's good to know that you're both safe and well." Hermione dashed the spilling tears from her eyes and took the deep breath that all watching knew would be the beginning of a stern lecture. "But..."

Ron shook his head and interrupted immediately. "No, Hermione," he said firmly. "They did the right thing and you know it. Lecturing them now is pointless. I'd rather see Ginny married to Harry than bound to that evil little blond ponce."

Harry's eyes widened and Ginny gave a little grimace. It seemed that her brother had done a bit of maturing in the years that they had been gone. Perhaps Ron and Hermione would be a good match after all. Hermione would always be ahead in applied intellect but Ron wasn't stupid and finally seemed to be acting in a grown-up manner. She glanced at Harry. "I think we should do the introductions now."

Harry agreed. "Ron, Hermione... we have someone we would like you to meet," he said solemnly.

"Who?" Hermione looked mystified. She knew the whole family was here apart from Percy, who wasn't welcome, and Charlie, who was still in Romania. They'd seen both Remus and Tonks recently and somehow she didn't think that Harry or Ginny were ready to welcome Dumbledore into their home.

Harry and Ginny merely smiled at one another and led the way into the living room.

"Dad...Dad...Dad," shouted a little figure, eyes like his father's, dark hair standing on end but with his mother's smile. "Mum..."

Fleur held the wriggling little boy firmly on her lap. "He is très sweet," she said with a silvery chuckle. "I hope ours is just so."

Bill dropped a kiss on Fleur's head. "He...or she... will be."

Hermione and Ron advanced to the middle of the living room, their faces white with shock. "Ginny, is that a...baby?"

"Well, it's clearly not a teacup," Ginny said tartly.

Jamie's little face turned towards the newcomers and a hint of a pout appeared. "No!" He wriggled from Fleur's grasp and ran across to hide behind his mother, peering out at the strangers.

Harry nodded proudly and crouched down to speak to the child. "No, Jamie, you're not a baby. You're getting to be such a big boy. This is your Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron. I know it's a lot of aunties and uncles to remember but you'll get to know them all very soon." He grinned at the stunned couple. "Ron...Hermione... meet James Arthur Potter."

Ginny lifted the little boy into her arms and covered his face with gentle kisses. "You're a surprise Christmas present for them, aren't you?"

"You named him after Dad?" Ron managed to croak.

Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder. "He's named for your father and mine. I don't think it's possible to find two finer men to honour."

Hermione's face showed her worry. "But Ginny, Harry, how could you do this?"

Ginny smirked. "Well, when a little witch and little wizard grow up, they play around with the little wizard's magic wand and they get a baby in the witch's cauldron. The Cornish pixies then deliver the cauldron to the witch who wants the baby."

There was a moment of stunned silence and then the whole room apart from Hermione and Molly burst into laughter.

"That's brilliant," wheezed Bill. "Just brilliant. Fleur, we have to remember that one for when our child starts to ask awkward questions."

Fleur laughed merrily and then blew her husband a kiss.

"Ginevra Molly Potter, I'm appalled at you," said Molly, her hands on her hips. "There's a child present."

"Mum, I'm only repeating what you told me," the red-haired witch said smugly. "And currently Jamie's a bit oblivious." She frowned. Her son was happily smearing something over his face in an attempt to eat it. "Harry James Potter, did you give my son that white chocolate frog?"

Harry quailed a little. "I thought he could have a treat since it's the first time he's met Auntie Hermione and Uncle Ron. It's for the trauma, you know, and white chocolate is better for him than milk or dark chocolate."

"Hmm," Ginny said, her mouth a firm line. "You're in charge of bath time then and don't complain when he doesn't eat his tea."

"When is tea?" asked Ron.

Hermione sank onto the leather sofa in despair at her fiancé's behaviour. "Ron," she moaned. "Just when I thought that you could behave in polite company..."

"This isn't polite company; this is family," said Ron with a cheeky smirk. "There's a difference."

Harry, his arm around his wife, his chocolate-smeared son at his feet, had to agree. Life, at this moment, was good.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Minerva McGonagall moved silently through the Hogwarts corridors, the only sound a faint swish as her heavy velvet dress brushed the stone floor. She'd been working on next year's lesson plans in her office when the book in which was recorded the names of all the magical children able to attend Hogwarts had unexpectedly flung itself open and began showing signs of activity.

Minerva had stared worriedly as the heavy pages flicked rapidly back and forth until they came to the list of magical births for about eighteen months previously. The manner of the book's behaviour had been startling but surely it had to be good news.

The quill had paused and was hovering over a page that Minerva had noticed the last time she'd checked the book. The quill had left an entry space blank but there was evidence that it had tried to write something. She'd always thought that the gap was caused by a rare magical malfunction. Now, she wasn't so sure. Could someone have prevented the birth from being recorded? She knew such things had to be possible but she didn't know how it could be done. No witch or wizard would risk their child failing to receive their Hogwarts acceptance letter unless they had a very good reason to do so and a muggle family lacked the knowledge. The children whose names were recorded on the same page were all over a year old.

The magical quill never made mistakes. So what had happened here? Who was so desperate to hide the birth of a magical child... something that was considered to be a wonderful gift? Who had done it and why? Not even Lily and James Potter had attempted such a thing. They and the Longbottoms had had more reason than most, targeted as they were by that damned prophecy.

She waited, her spectacles poised on the tip of her nose for the quill to move again and when it did, her face paled to the colour of the parchment upon which the quill scratched and she froze into stunned immobility for several minutes. It was the name of a child but there was no address – no location for them to contact.

James Arthur Potter - born May 4th to Harry James Potter and Ginevra Molly Potter.

The Potters...

Not Lily and James but Harry and Ginny. If Lily and James had known such a thing were possible, they would have done it to protect Harry and thus possibly saved themselves in the process. The hiding of the child's name was now explained. The wizarding world would know that there was a new Potter heir. The registry of births at Hogwarts had a matching one at the ministry. Harry and Ginny had rightly done this to protect their child who would be in as much peril as his parents still were.

"I must get word to Albus," the witch muttered. "This is not something we expected at all. What will happen to this child? The Malfoys, the Ministry, You-know-who..." She brushed the soft fabric at her knees and stood up to make her way to the headmaster's office until she remembered that Albus was currently moving Severus Snape to Grimmauld Place. He would want to know immediately but information this sensitive couldn't be told in a Patronus. If she hurried, he might still be in the medical wing. Curfew had just passed and Severus wasn't leaving Hogwarts until all the students remaining in the castle over the holidays were accounted for in their respective houses. He was supposed to be dead after all and there were children in the school whose families leant towards the darker side of magic.

Minerva's lips thinned as she thought about what Severus Snape had endured. It was likely that the man might take years to approach the state of health that he'd once had. But perhaps he would recover quicker away from Hogwarts. Severus was a true genius with potions but she suspected that he hadn't enjoyed teaching any age younger than the top NEWT level students. Albus had moved the potions professor's specialised lab to the basement at Grimmauld Place. Severus Snape would spend the next few months, possibly years, brewing potions and doing research for the Order of the Phoenix.

At least he was alive. It had been a close run thing. If he wanted to remain alive he couldn't remain in the school.

She entered the hospital wing. "Poppy, is Albus still here?"

Madam Pomfrey looked up from the beds she was stripping and remaking, her wand outstretched. "No, Minerva, you've just missed him."

"I suppose I should go after him." Her fingers clutched tightly at her wand. "With Albus gone I am in charge of the school until he returns. But I don't know if we can wait that long."

"Is there something wrong?" A sheet zipped off the bed and deposited itself in a large hamper. "I doubt that Albus will be back tonight. He's making certain that Severus settles into Grimmauld Place. After all that man has been through for the Order, I think Albus can spare some time."

Minerva frowned and quickly surveyed the empty ward. She shouldn't say anything until she'd spoken to Albus but perhaps Poppy would know why the entry in the ledger had been so late. The child had been born over a year and a half ago and only now was the quill reacting. Poppy was always especially overjoyed to hear of the birth of another magical child. "May I ask you something?"

Poppy chuckled. "We've been friends for how many years? Of course you ask me anything, you daft witch. There can't be many secrets left between us."

Minerva gave a wry smile. "True," she murmured. The smile slipped from her face and she sighed. "This should be a wonderful happening but I fear it's going to cause a lot of problems."

Poppy sent the last sheet towards the hamper with a swift flick of her wand. "Ask away. It can't be so dreadful."

Minerva sniffed. "I was working in my office and suddenly the book of magical births flipped open."

"Goodness!" exclaimed the mediwitch. "That must have given you a bit of a start."

"You could say that. It's never happened quite like that before."

"So another baby has been born. Who does it belong to? Is it a muggleborn or an old established wizarding family finally having an heir?" Poppy was excited. She loved hearing of potential pupils and wondering if she could remember the parents from their own days in the castle.

"This is not a new birth, Poppy," said Minerva. "The quill that records the entries began filling in a blank space from about eighteen months back."

Poppy stopped her tidying and swallowed. "E...eighteen months," she whispered. "Oh!"

"And when I tell you who the parents are... We're going to be in a world of trouble." The deputy head was obviously worried. "I don't know what Albus will say."

"Albus?" Poppy twisted her hands together nervously. "What about Albus?"

Minerva frowned at the Mediwitch's odd behaviour. "He's obsessed with finding the boy...Harry."

"Why can't they leave him alone?" Poppy exclaimed irritably. "And in any case, Harry is not a boy. He's a grown man. You'd better come into the office," she said, pushing away her disquiet at Jamie's protection unravelling and attempting to appear as if nothing unusual were happening. "You look as if you could do with a drink... or a strong calming draught."

"Better put up some privacy wards, too."

"Why? We're the only ones here." Poppy gave a surreptitious look around the ward.

"Portraits have ears. Anything to do with Harry Potter is to be spoken with care."

Poppy ushered Minerva into her office and with a swish of her wand, two chairs moved in front of the fire. "Alright, Minerva. What has the record of births to do with Harry Potter?"

"The child is Harry Potter's son. Harry and Ginny's son."

Poppy managed a shaky smile. "How wonderful. I always knew, despite everything, that those two would end up together. A toast..."

"But the child isn't a newborn and the marriage should never have happened. We did know they'd married - which was bad enough - but to go ahead and have a child."

"Why shouldn't they?" Poppy asked stiffly. "If they are married – why not? At least they got married. Many witches and wizards don't bother. Why, in my day..."

"Poppy!" Minerva stopped the mediwitch from climbing onto her soapbox.

"Just saying what I think. I'm glad Harry married Ginny and now we have a new generation of magical Potters." Jamie was a wonderful baby.

"The pair is in some trouble with the Ministry for failing to uphold the Malfoy marriage contract."

Poppy made a sound of disgust.

"I know," agreed the deputy headmistress wearily. "I didn't want to see her in that household either but..."

"They're married and the marriage has been approved. I heard that Bill, as head of House Weasley, announced the union formally at the Ministry. Even more proof of magic's acceptance of the marriage is that Jamie's name has now appeared in the register." Poppy gave a firm nod as if that sealed the deal. "The Ministry and the Wizengamot haven't a leg to transfigure."

"How would one mask the magical signature of a newborn baby?" asked Minerva. "Why would one want to...Oh!"

"There are spells that midwives know," Poppy said and then shut her mouth with a snap.

"Spells?"

"Old magic," Poppy said quietly. "I'm sure wizards can do them, too."

"Harry couldn't do magic," Minerva stated firmly.

"Then Ginny could..." Poppy flushed.

Minerva's eyes narrowed. "You said that such spells could be performed by midwives."

"Or heads of houses," Poppy chipped in.

"Or perhaps school mediwitches?" Minerva countered. "Poppy, what are you hiding? I'm not daft and you know it. If Ginny Weasley used her wand just once the Ministry would have picked it up. They would not have released the Trace."

"They're not that accurate."

"They can if they want to be."

"Just as well for Sirius Black that they were not." Minerva's eyes narrowed. "I never told you the name of Harry's son."

Poppy paled. She'd said Jamie's name aloud? Of course, she had. "Perhaps I heard it elsewhere?"

"Not even Albus Dumbledore knows that the Potters have had a child. I was on my way to find him...remember?"

"An educated guess? Harry was likely to call his son after his father."

"Poppy..." The name was stretched out warningly.

"Okay, I admit it," Poppy said fiercely. "I helped them. And I don't regret it for an instant. Albus needs to leave them alone. That young man had to go through more than any other magical being I've ever met. Every year he was a patient in my infirmary. Every single year and no, it wasn't anything trivial. No, he was fighting possessed teachers, basilisks, death eaters on polyjuice, dementor effects and a curse so heinous that it stripped him of his magic..."

A glass was pushed into her hand as she ran out of steam. Poppy stared at the golden liquid in surprise. "Minerva?"

"I always carry a little spirit around my person for emergencies," the stern witch admitted, a little smirk on her lips. "Now...tell me."

"But Harry's safety..."

"Is paramount, I understand. Where is he? Surely, you must know?"

"So that you'll tell Albus? Harry doesn't want the headmaster to know where he is."

Minerva stared angrily at the irate mediwitch.

"I'm sorry." Poppy sighed. "I don't know where he is. I have my suspicions of his approximate location but he's under both a Fidelius and powerful wards. Harry didn't blame Albus for what happened to him, but he did hold him responsible for the aftermath – for not explaining what had happened to him. I'm not sure that I'm so forgiving." Poppy sipped at her single malt fire-whisky and then in a cathartic show of confidence divulged the whole story to her long-time friend. Merlin knows she'd wanted to rail at the sheer-bloody-mindedness of certain wizards. "There was no cure to the curse."

Minerva nodded, appalled at what Albus had allowed to happen. "I know. Hermione Granger did some research. There was a book..."

"In the Black family library?" Poppy drained her glass and held it out for a refill. "I read it by some lucky chance just hours before You-know-who's attack on Harry. Even more fortuitous was the fact that I needed some ingredients for some basic potions I needed to brew for the hospital wing. Professor Snape does the more complicated potions but I brew a mean Pepper-Up. I was in the apothecary when it all happened and..."

"You stabilised his magic. "

"It was all I could do as there is no cure but immediate treatment can reverse or slow the magical drain. Doing what I did, I think, paved the way for his recovery.""

"What does Harry think?" Minerva arched her eyebrow. "If what Alastor says is true, the boy still has strong magic."

"What makes you think I've been in contact with Harry?"

"You've already let slip far too much." Minerva sniffed and glared. "I've been your friend for how many years and you still think that I'm daft?"

Poppy had the grace to look ashamed. "I treated him immediately after that last battle. I crawled towards him. The apothecary was in a complete shambles and he was lying there surrounded by pieces of glass. But later, when reason surfaced, we couldn't believe that Albus hadn't said anything. I recommended that Harry be sent to St. Mungos for treatment. But no, Harry was barred from leaving Grimmauld Place. Harry thinks that Albus wanted him to lose some of his magic – that he was becoming too powerful. The headmaster heard You-know-who inflict that horrible curse on Harry. He was standing just feet away from both of us, yet he said and did nothing."

"Albus wouldn't..."

"He sees Harry as a weapon and not as a wizard with a future. Harry thinks that Albus doesn't trust him to remain...well...light." Poppy sat stiffly in her chair. "He likes moving people around to suit his own plans. You know that he does."

Minerva's lips tightened but she didn't contradict the mediwitch. "Who knows what Albus is thinking?

"I knew he was going to run, in fact, I made him a med kit to take with him when he left but that was all I knew. Harry then contacted me when Ginny became pregnant," continued Poppy. "I'd always had a soft spot for him but latterly, before he left the wizarding world, we became very close. He then sent me a portkey in time for Jamie's birth. He was worried that his lack of magic would endanger Ginny and the baby. Ginny gave up using her magic when she left with Harry. She thought that the Ministry would continue to track her wand."

"Harry was never a planner. He always reacted on instinct," Minerva murmured. "Miss Weasley may very well have been right."

"Harry may not have been a planner but Sirius Black had learned to become one while he was shut up in Grimmauld Place, Minerva. Sirius became disillusioned with Albus and Order and the way they treated his godson. Harry was always going to run in some form or another. He has never liked being the 'boy-who-lived'. He felt he had no choice of remaining in the magical world and Sirius made sure he had somewhere to go. Yes, Harry may not have been a planner at one time but I think that's all changed."

"I didn't know until just recently that Harry had lost his magic. To lose what makes you what you are." Minerva's face showed her distress.

Poppy reached forward and clasped Minerva's hand. "He couldn't defend himself against anyone or anything and at the age of eighteen he didn't want to be told what to do. The last time I saw him, his magic was back as strong as it had ever been and yes, I tested it. If it had been anyone else, I doubt they would have recovered as quickly. Harry Potter thrives on achieving the impossible. He's far more than a wizard, Minerva."

"Albus will still have to be told, Poppy."

"B...but why?"

"The book of records has a corresponding one at the Ministry. I don't think it has been checked in some time but if the Ministry steps up their blood classification testing again, they will undoubtedly order the book unsealed. Once those in You-know-who's camp find out about this, none of his friends and family will be safe. They will stop at nothing. Luckily it's Christmas and apparently even the Ministry slows down...more than usual. The headmaster must be forewarned of what will be found when that book is opened."

"Can't we leave the Potters alone until after Christmas?" Poppy pleaded.

Minerva sighed. "There's not much he can do at the moment but I have to let him know if any information surfaces. Whatever you think he's done, Albus was only ever concerned for Harry's safety."

"Too concerned," muttered Poppy under her breath.

"Harry has agreed to meet with the headmaster after the holidays," said Minerva gently.

"Because Albus will not leave him alone," shot back Poppy coldly. "As I said earlier, Harry's not a boy any more, Minerva. You'd better warn Albus of that. He has a wife and son to protect and he will do anything to protect them. He will not meekly submit to the headmaster's whims."

The Scottish witch sighed. "Harry's intractability is going to soar to new levels, isn't it? He never was one to just lie down and take it. I've never met a more stubborn..."

"Minerva, we don't want history to repeat itself. Harry has learned from his parents' mistakes and will make certain that Ginny and Jamie are never found."

Minerva stiffened. "Lily and James didn't make a mistake. They thought they were as safe as they could be. James and Pettigrew were as close as brothers."

Poppy shook her head. "No, they weren't. Otherwise Pettigrew would never have betrayed them by reporting their whereabouts to You-know-who."

"Dumbledore would have kept Harry safe," Minerva said firmly.

Poppy shook her head. "I don't know what your definition of safe is but it is not the same as mine. These days, Harry's view of Albus Dumbledore is rather mixed."

"What do you mean?"

Poppy shrugged. "He appreciates his skill and power but doesn't trust him or believe him infallible. In my opinion, he thinks Albus has feet of clay." Harry thinks that the headmaster is too fond of the bigger picture and forgets the small details...like people."

Minerva's sighed. "Oh."

"I've looked after that boy since he was eleven years old. I want to be able to say the same thing about his son and any more children he has. Albus may have been able to keep him safe but he wouldn't have been happy." She sniffed. "Go on then, tell Albus and see what he plots for his 'greater good'. You know that he's at Grimmauld Place with Severus. Another wizard that Albus hasn't done the best for."

Minerva's face looked saddened. "I have to agree with you, there."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The door creaked loudly as it swung on its hinges before closing with a strangely mournful thud. A cloud of dust rose in the stale air of the gloomy corridor. Albus Dumbledore turned to his companion with a cheery smile. "We'll get Molly in to give this place a real see-to."

"I thought the wolf was living here. If so, I'm not impressed with his housekeeping skills." Severus Snape placed a shaky hand against the wall.

"Remus hasn't been here much of late," Albus admitted. "He's been doing some Order business for me..."

"Trying to find Potter?" sneered Snape.

"Among other things," replied Albus quietly. "Nymphadora's auror duties have almost doubled in the past year. She wouldn't spend time here alone without Remus. She does have her own flat and although I've told her many times that it isn't safe she maintains that she'll be alright. No doubt, she and Remus prefer to stay there. I can understand even if I would rather have them behind these wards. It hasn't been the same since Harry left." He twitched his nose and tickled out a delicate sneeze. "No matter what we seem to do here, there's always a cloud of dust. I wouldn't be surprised if Walburga Black set an enchantment to that effect."

"That mad old harpy?" mumbled Snape sourly.

"Mrs. Black had many...disappointments in her life," Dumbledore managed to say tactfully. "She lost both her sons. Regulus...Sirius..."

"Don't mention him to me. I prefer conversing with his mother in her deranged portrait form although she's the most unpleasant woman I've ever come across and during the Dark Lord's service I've met several." He coughed delicately. "You have met Madame Lestrange?

"You are living in his house or you are about to be." Dumbledore ignored the question.

"He's dead. I believe this is Potter's house or perhaps yours. Black went through the veil. One wizard that bloody Potter couldn't manage to save." His lips twisted into an approximation of a smile.

"Severus," Dumbledore's voice was sharp. "I should not have to remind you that you owe your life to Harry's actions. If he had not come across you in the forest..."

"Quite," Snape snapped. "I am not suicidal but I do not think my life is worth much to anyone. That damn brat should have left me to die. I did not want to be saved by him."

Dumbledore winced. Snape still clung onto the old schoolboy grudge with a vengeance. "You mustn't say that, Severus. Your friends in the Order..."

"I have no friends in the Order...or among the staff. They tolerate me at best and do not trust me." He pulled at the bandages still covering what had once been his dark mark. The wound still hadn't healed properly even after nearly two months.

"Severus..." Albus said quietly. "Madam Pomfrey has warned against further aggravating your wound."

"Snape's eyes narrowed into dark slits, his teeth snarling. "It...hurts," he breathed harshly, hating that he had to admit such a weakness to Albus of all people. "It hurts all the time. The pain is almost overwhelming."

"Poppy..."

"Did what she could. I will have to do the rest."

"You could Occlude."

"Don't you think I'm already doing so?" Snape grimaced and then turned away leaning heavily on his cane. His moment of weak disclosure passed.

"We've put you in here - it was originally Orion Black's study." Dumbledore opened a door on the ground floor. "A bathroom and a kitchenette have been added for your personal use. The potions lab has been set up in the basement."

"The empty room next to the kitchen?" asked Snape.

"Yes." Dumbledore smiled again. "It's a good size and the plumbing suits the requirements of a lab. I suspect the Blacks used it as such at one time. As with Hogwarts, stairs are a part of this house and we wanted to minimise you having to traipse up and down several flights. The lounge and library are on the floor above. This is a tall narrow house, Severus."

"I have been frequenting meetings here for quite some years. I am familiar with the layout," Snape stated frostily. "And I can manage the stairs – I'm not an invalid."

"Poppy thought it would be best not to overdo things for now," Albus said diplomatically. "You are not yet at your full strength."

Snape limped into the room and looked around him. "It will do," he declared. Beyond the gloom of the hallway, the room allocated to the Potions Master was much brighter and spotlessly clean. Shelves already filled with his many books and personal belongings. "There is nothing wrong with me," he snapped. "I have recovered." But his limbs were trembling and his face pale and waxy.

"You said you were in pain," Dumbledore reminded him gently. "I can send for Madame Pomfrey."

"She can do nothing."

"I'll leave you to settle in, Severus. "Dumbledore was alarmed at the colour of the Potion Master's face but knew he had to let the man be. He asked himself if the wizard should have left the infirmary yet?

"This is my domain?" Snape gathered his dignity around him as he subsided shakily into a dark green dragon hide armchair.

"It is. You may set your own wards as you did at Hogwarts."

"And I may leave it if I choose?"

Dumbledore frowned. "You are not a prisoner, Severus but if it was known that you were still alive you would have Voldemort after..."

"Do not say his name," Snape hissed furiously. "Never say his name in my presence."

"Fear of a name..." began Dumbledore.

"I am not afraid!" Snape shouted. "But it...pains me to hear it." He paused gulping in great breaths of much needed air. "I removed tracking charms from my person and my belongings. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you? I have just escaped the wrath of one master. I do not need to be confined by another."

Dumbledore felt the words as a personal blow. He'd asked Severus to spy for him, yes, at considerable danger to his life but surely the man could not consider him as bad as Voldemort – could he? "Severus..."

Suddenly there was a faint chime and the house seemed to shiver a welcome. Dumbledore's face lightened. "We have a visitor."

A tap at the open door and the genially smiling face of Remus Lupin stood within the frame. "Hello, Albus. Good to see you up and about, Severus."

"Remus!" exclaimed the headmaster with a certain amount of relief. "So we shall be three for Christmas dinner? You are staying?"

Snape looked on sourly. He had no desire to be in the same house as the werewolf, let alone dine with him on a regular basis.

"Alas, Albus," said Remus, with just the right amount of regret in his voice. "I am spending Christmas day with Tonks and her parents now that the goblins have strengthened their wards. In fact, I just returned here to pack some things for the duration of our stay."

Dumbledore looked a little disappointed. He liked having people around him, especially when it was a celebration. "Andromeda and Ted have installed goblin wards? A sensible precaution but it doesn't come cheap."

Remus nodded. "They thought the lives of their family were worth the expense."

"If the Dark Lord is determined enough no amount of wards will provide safety," said Snape. "You should know that, werewolf. You couldn't ever protect your friends."The last word was spat at Remus with loathing.

"Severus!" rebuked Dumbledore sharply. "That was unfair and unnecessary."

Snape's lip curled nastily as he met the glare mixed with hurt that Remus directed towards him. "But it is the truth...although your golden boy has escaped the Dark Lord's wrath for longer than I had expected."

Dumbledore sighed. "Have you heard anything from Harry?" he asked Remus.

The werewolf froze. "Why would I have heard anything from Harry?"

"You and he were close."

"I liked to think so but he felt he couldn't trust anyone in the Order to help him – including me." The werewolf's amber eyes turned cold. "I let you manipulate me for too long, Albus, at Harry's expense. I could have spent time with him from the moment he lost his parents. I should have but I let you..." He bit off the words in disgust. "I am ashamed of myself."

Dumbledore frowned. It wasn't the full moon for another fortnight. Lupin, apart, from his time as a wolf was a genial man. The hostility he was showing Albus and Severus was unexpected. "Manipulate, Remus? Isn't that rather too strong a word?"

"No, I don't think that it is. You may think of it as a sort of experiment in implementing the 'greater good.' I am not sure that it works and people...children get hurt. Excuse me, I must get going. Andromeda and Ted are expecting me." Remus gave a polite bow and stalked from the room.

"Stupid werewolf," snarled Snape, hatred etched on every skeletal feature. "I would bet my last knut that he's seen the Potter brat recently."

"And how would you know that without utilising legilimency, Severus?"

Snape sneered. "I am a Slytherin and he is not. He was a little too obvious in not answering your question. He's seen Potter."

"Of course he has. He met him in the wizarding district in Aberdeen."

Snape's dark eyes regained some of their former malice. "No, he's seen Potter since then. Lupin has shifted his allegiance." He gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Albus, your pawns seem to be deciding their own fate and not moving according to your wishes."

"You are certain of this?" Dumbledore's blue eyes followed the direction Lupin had taken from the room, his feet automatically moving to follow.

"Of course. Your Gryffindors and their bleeding hearts."

Dumbledore seemed to take a deep breath. "Harry will do the right thing."

Snape scowl was even blacker than it usually was.

"Now, I believe the house elves will have our dinner ready for us very soon." Albus gave Snape a strained smile, for once, unable to mask his feelings. "I'll go and see if everything's in order and leave you to get settled. Our Christmas meal should be served in an hour."

Snape opened his mouth to say that he wasn't hungry but something about the set of the headmaster's shoulders stayed his words.

"Albus, Albus!"

"Minerva!" Dumbledore gave Snape a concerned look and found his expression momentarily mirrored by the Potions Master.

"Something is wrong, she sounds anxious." Snape may have looked as if he was sneering but he held a healthy respect for Minerva's abilities. She would not worry without reason. "She should be used to such feelings as a foolish Gryffindor."

"I, too, was in Gryffindor house, Severus."

"I rest my case," sniped Snape.

Dumbledore placed his wand against his throat and cast a Sonorus charm. "We're down here, Minerva. Just getting Severus settled in."

There was the sound of agitated footsteps and Minerva tapped lightly on the open door before stepping in. "Oh, Albus," she said. "We have a piece of news."

"About?"

"Harry...Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley."

Dumbledore stiffened. "They're well?" he asked cautiously. "They've not been found by Voldemort? We would have heard..."

Snape hissed and Minerva winced at the mention of the dark wizard's name.

"Don't," said Snape at exactly the same Minerva snapped, "Call him, 'You-know-who'."

"Fear of..."

But the Potions Master's eyes were closed, the fingers of his right hand clutched tightly over his left forearm and the depute-headmistress was wringing her hands together worriedly.

Dumbledore looked at his depute. "Tell me, Minerva."

"The book of names," she said. "Earlier this evening, I was working in my office – the book is currently kept there – when it suddenly flew open and the quill started scribbling." She took a deep breath and swallowed. "About a year and a half ago, there was a space left marked by a few smudged ink blots. I thought it was a mistake or a magical child hadn't survived long after birth. It's unusual but it does happen and...there was a new name added."

The headmaster's face paled as comprehension struck. "Oh Harry! What have you done?" he murmured, so softly that none of the others heard him.

Snape frowned. "Why would the book register the name after so long? Surely most names are entered magically at birth. A child doesn't suddenly turn from squib to wizard. Not even the darkest of arts can do that or the pureblood ranks would have been tripled long ago."

"The identity of the child was being masked by enchantments." Dumbledore was shaking his head slowly as if he couldn't believe what he was thinking.

"Why would someone prevent their child's name from being entered in the magical book?" asked Snape. "It would deny them entry to Hogwarts or any other magical establishment, would it not?"

"It would." Albus rubbed a long thin finger tiredly across the bridge of his nose. The boy – if he had guessed correctly what Minerva was telling them - had made it almost impossible for him to act in the way that would allow Harry to fulfil the prophecy and end Tom's reign for good. Slytherin tendencies, indeed. Harry Potter had a sense of self-preservation inherent in his bones. Lucius Malfoy and the Ministry would demand Harry and Ginny's arrest and Merlin knows what would happen to the child if the Ministry decided to act against the wishes of magic.

In the eyes of the Malfoys and the Ministry the Potters had broken the law. But even the Ministry wouldn't go as far as ordering the child to be destroyed. A stray thought tugged at his brain: perhaps the Potters hadn't done anything wrong. He would have to review things in his pensieve; it always made things clearer.

Minerva swept into the room, her wine-coloured velvet dress sweeping the floor with a faint brush of rich fabric. "It is old magic, perhaps not as strong as some charms, but it proves effective for a while. It can be broken quite easily. The more people who know about the child's existence, the less effective the protection and eventually the charm begins to break down. The child in question..." her voice shook.

No one had ever accused Snape of being stupid and he drew back into his chair with a muffled epithet. "Potter has decided to go against any plans made for his well being and reproduce with the Weasley witch." He sat up, the expression on his face horrified and glanced at Minerva who managed to nod. "Albus!" he howled.

Dumbledore shook his head. "There isn't anything that we can currently do. But I fear for their existence if they are found."

Minerva's eyes narrowed and for the first time in many a year, she found herself taking a good look at her boss. "They seem to be managing just fine without us," she stated coldly. ""I'm not planning to hand them over to the Ministry."

"I would hope not, Minerva," chided Albus.

She snorted and turned her head away, refusing to meet his gaze. "You could have made his life better, Albus, and you did not. You owe it to him, his wife and his family. You let V...V...Voldemort and his cloak-kissing scum touch one hair of that family's head and I will transfigure you and your lemon drops into something foul."

"Minerva..."

"No, Albus. I want to see James Arthur Potter sitting under the sorting hat when he turns eleven."

Snape gurgled several swear words. "James Potter."

"James Arthur Potter."

"Shite!"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Malfoy Mansion

"Lucius!"

The roar could be heard through the entire mansion.

"Potter has defied us once more and you thought that could hide this from me."

Lucius tried to reassure his leader. "I'm sorry, my Lord, but you have not been strong..."

"I am Lord Voldemort. I am the strongest wizard this world has ever seen. How dare you suggest that I am weak."

"I would never..." Lucius scrambled to repair his mistaken words.

The glowing red eyes focused on the ashen-faced Malfoy head. "Someone has to pay. The marriage cannot be legal."

Lucius swallowed nervously, sinking to his knees. His Lord was not going to like his answer but to lie would bring on more terrible consequences. He had to tell the truth but perhaps he could place the blame upon another. "It has been accepted, my Lord. It was written in the Magical book of unions at the Ministry. I cannot understand why but Magic has accepted it – therefore it is legal. The marriage stands."

"I am the greatest wizard this world has ever seen. Magic bows to me. It is not acceptable. The Weasley daughter belongs to your son."

Lucius shuffled forward, his mortification plain for all to see. "He never wanted her, my Lord, but would have done his duty and produced children for our cause."

"Yet she married Potter and according to my source has already given him an heir. The famed Weasley fertility has been proven true. You let such a prize slip through your fingers. She could have been made to comply."

"What!" Malfoy trembled in his shoes with a combination of fear and rage. This was something his spies at the Ministry hadn't told him. "She has borne Potter an heir?"

Voldemort sat up in his chair and leaned forward. "You did not know?" he asked, his voice silky with menace. "What a pity...for you."

17